House Training, aka potty training, aka the thing formerly known as housebreaking, is usually the highest priority training goal on anyone’s mind when they bring home their first pup.

There is no reliable instinct in dogs that tells them the voluminous space of your home is no place for pee. This seems arbitrary to them. The corner in your great room is not all that different in their terms from the patch of grass next to the shed (That’s not to say they won’t be picky about where they pee outside for reasons that, ironically, seem arbitrary to you).

What this means is, since your rules seem arbitrary, they need time to learn your rules. The keys to success are:

  1. Predicting when they need to go
  2. Watching them at all times
  3. Using praise and rewards

Here are the specifics:

1. Understand How Often They Need to Go

Puppies

The general rule is that puppies can hold it 1 hour for every month they are old. So if your pup is 8 weeks old (i.e. 2 months) which is usually the soonest you’re allowed to pick your puppy up from the breeder, they can only hold it for 2 hours. If you work a normal 8 hour day, this means you need to find a way to take your dog out multiple times throughout the work day. (this can be tricky and there are some tips below)

Also, beyond the general 1 hour per 1 month in age rule, you should expect to take your puppy out:

  • First thing in the morning
  • Last thing at night
  • After playing
  • After spending time in a crate
  • Upon waking up from a nap
  • After chewing a toy or bone
  • After eating
  • After drinking

Adult Dogs

No dog should be expected to hold his bladder for longer than 8 hours. Typically you’ll give your dog more frequent bathroom trips than that.

If your adult dog hasn’t mastered house training yet (perhaps you took in a rescue dog that hasn’t had proper training) you should approach house training similar to how you’d approach house training a puppy. That means it will require constant vigilance and frequent bathroom trips.

Adult dogs that have mastered house training don’t require as much vigilance. Typically, you’ll have predefined times when you take him out (you’re following a routine, right?) and he’ll also start to let you know if there are other times he needs to go out, usually by scratching or whining at the door. Some dog owners even choose to add a bell on the door that the dog can ring when he wants to go out.

Typically, you’ll take an adult dog out first thing in the morning, last thing at night, after any prolonged time confined in the crate or inside the house, and also after any water.

2. Understand the Do’s and Don’ts

House Training might be difficult but it’s not complicated. Eighty percent of your success can be found in these simple rules:

Do

  • Watch your dog at all times inside the house until he’s house trained - If you can’t watch your dog then he should be confined to the crate where he is less likely to have an accident. This is all part of setting him up to succeed.
  • Follow a routine - You should try to take your dog out at the same times every day. You should also try to feed and water him at the same times every day.
  • Keep a log - This might sound like overkill, but you will want to log when he goes out and whether he does #1 and/or #2. You don’t want to be asking yourself if you took him out and then wondering if when you took him out, he actually did anything. Don’t trust your memory. Trust your log. You should also record when you fed and watered him so you can learn how those impact when he needs to go.
  • Use a cue - when you take your dog outside to relieve himself, use the cue “Go Potty” or something similar. House training is like any other type of training, you’ll want to put it on cue and reward the correct behavior (see below).
  • Use positive reinforcement - Reward him for doing the right thing rather than punish him for doing the wrong thing. When you take him outside and say “Go Potty” you should be prepared to mark “yes,” praise him, and reward him with a treat when he does.
  • Be patient and expect mistakes - when you expect mistakes they’re a lot less frustrating. Keep in mind that house training can take several months.
  • Try to take him outside if you catch him in the act - Maybe you let your guard down or maybe you were watching him and the next second he was peeing. Whatever the case, if you catch him in the act, you should try to take him outside to the right place so you can help him associate peeing with where you want him to pee. This is not a punishment.

Don’ts

  • Don’t punish errors after they happen - You can not teach your dog anything by punishing mistakes after they happen. He’ll have no idea what you’re trying to say. Don’t rub his nose in it. Don’t hit him with a newspaper (you should never punish your dog by hitting him). If you don’t catch him in the act, you just have to accept that a mistake was made and move on.
  • Don’t allow him access to the full house - One of the do’s above is “Watch your dog at all times inside the house.” This is much easier to abide by if you don’t allow your dog to wander all around the house.

3. Ideas for Managing Frequent Trips During the Puppy Months

If you work during the day but your puppy needs to go out every 2 hours, here are some ideas for continuing your house training:

  • Hire a dog walker - You give them money and they provide a service that you need. It’s a simple exchange, although potentially an expensive one.
  • Ask a friend, neighbor, or family member - This option is likely to be done more as a favor which can be tricky but face it, raising a puppy takes a village.
  • Pee Pads and newspapers - You can set up an area inside your house where your dog is allowed to relieve himself; however, this should be a last resort option. Most experts will tell you it’s hard to untrain peeing inside once you’ve trained it. Still, it’s better than the dog learning to pee wherever he wants.

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